The other day there were a couple of exchanges on the Extensive Reading Foundation (ERF) Facebook page about the usefulness of prescribing to our students a diet of at least 20 minutes reading a day. It was prompted by a poster where it is claimed that that people who read at least 20 minutes a day will be ‘more successful in (sic) school and… in life.’
It is indeed a huge claim and I feel quite reluctant to accept it without further consideration. To start with, I think the very concept of ‘being successful’ would have to be further discussed and analysed. Then there is the issue of measurement. Where does this exact number of 20 minutes come from? Would 19 suffice or should it be 21? Irony apart, I see attempts of exact measuring activities, such as reading, that are cognitively and emotionally complex, as highly questionable because they involve processes that can hardly be measured at all. In terms of reading, there are other variables that must be taken into consideration besides time spent on the activity, such as emotional and cognitive engagement with the text, level of language proficiency, contextualization, previous reading experiences, levels of attention and concentration, purpose of reading, and the kind of text being read.
Having said that, I still truly believe that exposure to the reading text and time spent reading are fundamental for the development of the reader (Manguel, 2011). The more you read, the more you understand and expand your reading comprehension skills. The more you read, the better your writing, listening and speaking become (Brumfit and Carter, 1999; Hudson, 2007; Shelton-Strong, 2012). Above all, the habit of reading leads to considerable development of the brain (Wolf, 2008) and, hence, the development of your schemata and thinking skills (Cook, 1995). These are also huge claims, but they come from personal experience and also from a variety of studies that corroborate so.
Therefore, if people would really commit to reading for a certain amount of time a day, that would possibly have a positive impact on the development of cognitive skills, command of the language, and knowledge acquisition. Adopting a daily reading routine would foster the habit of reading and people would then reach a stage where they cannot let a day go by without reading. Hopefully, such habit will eventually make this reader realize that reading is one of the great pleasures available to human beings and that the more you read, the more you want to do it well beyond the prescribed and enforced 20 minutes a day.
- Brumfit, C. and Carter, R., 1999. Literature and Language Teaching. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
- Cook, G., 1995. Discourse and Literature: The Interplay of Form and Mind. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
- Hudson, T., 2007. Teaching Second Language Reading. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
- Manguel, A., 2011. A Reader on Reading. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.
- Shelton-Strong, S.J., 2012. Literature circles in ELT. ELT Journal, 66(2), pp.214–223.
- Wolf, M., 2008. Proust and the Squid: The Story and Science of the Reading Brain. London: Icon Books.